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What "Our Women in the War" 
Did and Suffered 




Cp °170. ^ 


What "Our Women in the War" Did and Suffered. 


Before attempting to write the life of a refugee 
it is necessary to touch briefly on the causes that 
led to that life. Naturally, women clung to their 
homes, naturally they would shrink from giving 
up thair comforts and luxuries for a life of trial 
and hardship. The women of New Bern' were 
compelled to do so. Situated on broad rivers, that 
afforded easy access to gunboats, Burnside select- 
ed this as early as March, 1882, as a strategic 
point, easy to capture, easy to hold, and affording 
pleasant and comfortable quarters for his army. 
■In those days the country was in a state of intense 
excitement; all the young men had enlisted for 
th? war, leaving only such as were incapacitated 
by age or infirmities, to constitute the "Home 
Guard" and to defend the town in case of an 
attack. These old men were called on to throw 
up breastworks. Being too feeble to shoulder a 
musket, they were constrained to handle a spade. 
Slight as our defenses were, we had an abiding 
faith that the justice and sanctity of our cause 
would be our safeguard. The women were not 
idle, all were busy making clothes, or knitting 
socks, or making cartridges and flags. All were 
ready to sacrifice their homes and their dear ones 
for their loved Southland. Early in September, 
1861, Hatteras fell. Fort Macon followed. We 

were now reduced to our local defenses. Besides 
the breastworks on land, obstructions and tor- 
pedoes were sunk in our rivers . We had not long 
to wait. On the 15th of March, 1862, Burnside 
began his attack. Confederate troops were sent 
to meet him, and might have succeeded in driving 
him off, but there were traitors among us. His 
gunboats, were piloted safely around the obstruc- 
tions. It was even said that our guns on land 
were so mounted as to be worse than useless. Our 
men fought bravely, but against two great odds. 
It is impossible to convey any idea of the horrors 
of a battle to those who have never been near 
enough to hear the guns. All day the battle 
raged. It was reported that the veay last train 
would leave for Goldsboro at 11 a. m. This wes 
to convey the sick and wounded from the hospitals 
to a place of safety. Women and children hasten- 
ed to the depot. No train came. All day long 
and until 11 at night they waited. Little children 
cried from hunger and women sat with pale fixed 
faces, listening to the heavy, deep sound of can- 
non and the sharp rattle of muskets. Perhaps it 
is harder to sit inactive and know that our loved 
ones are in eminent peril than to face danger. 
Our husbands and brothers were under fire, and 
every report seemed to rend one's heart-strings. 
At 11 p. m. the long-expected train came. The 
night was dark and there was a heavy rain storm. 
The cars were soon crowded to soffocation by the 
sick and wounded from the hospitals, and such 
refugees as could find standing room. With lit- 
tle frightened children clinging to them, and with 
vP only such baggage as could be taken in their 
jv» hands, these heroic women began their strange 
^ lives, At the first station, then called "Moseley 

Hall," I got out to wait for the fighting to cease 
that I might return to my home. I little thuught 
how many years it would be before I saw that 
home again. I stood with my babies and their 
nurses in the pouring rain till. all were dripping 
wet. A kind Samaritan offered us shelter for 
the night. We wrapped our little ones in blankets 
and hung their clothes to the fire to. dry. The 
bag containing a change of clothes was also wet 

On the 16th, Burnside entered the town. A train 
ventured down to remove our retreating army; 
this was shelled. Our men in retreating set fire 
to the town in many places. Ladies stood on the 
streets with food and water for our famished men. 
It was reported that some <~»f these men were killed 
when the enemy's guns were turned on the town. 
A friend (Dr. C. F. Deems) met us (my sister, 
Miss H. G. Cole, and me at Moseley Hall and 
offered to take us to his house in Wilson for a few 
days, till we could make other arrangements; we 
gladly accepted. Some trunks of clothing and 
some boxes of bedding had been sent to Goldsboro 
some days befere; these we collected and took 
with us. I w r as glad to wait for a short time be- 
fore moving on. My husband, adjutant of a regi- 
ment, was in the fight and had not been heard 
from. We were offered an asylum with relatives 
in South Carolina. We packed up and went to the 
depot, only to be informed that the trains were 
moving troops, and passengers were not allowed. 
Poor refugees! deprived of homes and home com- 
forts, there seemed no resting place for them! 
Our friends were most kind, but we felt how in- 
convenient it was for them to keep us. We were 
compelled to remain. The oldest boy of the family 

was teaching. He was anxious to enlist, and I 
offered to take his school till a teacher could he 
found. I have been "face to face with a part of 
Sherman's army, and not a nerve was shaken, 
but when I confronted this room full of grown 
boys my heart sank. They were gentlemen and 
gave me no trouble. The poor boy, Theodore 
Deems, who had enlisted, fell in his first battle. 
From the school-house I was called to the sick- 
room. My little children had been exposed on the 
cars to all sorts of diseases. One after another 
developed, and for weeks they were at death's 
door. We found a vacant house in Louisberg. 
The farm was rented by a "free man of color'* — 
but the house, reported to be haunted, was vacant. 
Collecting our belongings, we packed them in one 
wagon and our convalescent children in another, 
bade farewell to our kind friends, and in true 
imigrant style began our journey across the 
country. The first wagon went through safely. 
The second broke down. Our driver rode into 
town for relief. Night came on, and I sat on the 
roadside and made a wide lap and held all the 
children for some hours. At midnight we reach- 
ed our home. We had no matches, and we simply 
waited for daylight. We were getting used to 
waiting. With daylight came a most welcome 
and unexpected invitation to breakfast from our 
co-renters. Such a delicious breakfast as we had! 
Though we left silver on the table, we have been 
paying for that breakfast 40 years. The debt is 
not yet cancelled, for Aunt Sallie still lives. Busy 
days followed. We had to furnish our house. We 
had bunks made of rough planks for our feather 
beds. Think of the comforts of feather beds in 
the summer! We were refugees, and our bunks 

were hard! Our boxes were converted into 
lounges and tables and bureaus and washstands. 
All were draped and upholstered with: homespun. 
We bought six chairs. And after Mrs. Johnson 
presented us with a carpet and a. pair of andirons 
for the nursery, we felt as rich as Crcesus. Our 
life in Louisburg was a very happy one. From 
our neighbors we received unflagging acts of kind- 
ness. We had no horse, but we drove to church 
every Sunday. We kept no cows, but our children 
always had milk. We had no gardens, but our 
table was supplied with vegetables. My children 
have bee i taught to ve.iarat-i th.2 names o:' Hawkins, 
Hill, Malone, Williams, Lewis, Johnson, fiaton. 
Jones and others. None are forgotten. We had 
only to say our prayer, "Give us this day our daily 
bread," and it came. Sometimes we were a little 
extravagant. A gentlemen dined with us and we 
had our two days' dinner in one day. Meat and 
greens and apple dumplings. The next day we 
fasted. Such extravagance deserved punishment. 
In spite of some cares and privations and anxieties 
about our loved ones fighting in Virginia, I look 
back, after 40 years, on my life in Louisburg as a 
bright spot in memory. The enemy was advancing 
on Mobile, getting between , us and our Alabama 
plantation. Feeling that our servants would need 
our care and protection, we decided to bring in 
those who wished to come. We bought a small 
farm in Warren county, near the Virginia line; 
After an affectionate farewell to our many friends, 
we tied our precious feather beds in sheets, packed 
our new possessions in trunks, and taking our six 
chairs, left our "furniture" behind. Again we en- 
gaged two wagons. . One came. This we filled 
with our goods. The overflow was left for the 

second wagon. The five servants went. The two 
little boys begged to be aliowed to ride on the 
trunks with Allen and Sam. As their black mamies 
were with them, and as we expected to follow im- 
mediately, we consented. All day long we waited 
at the door with our belongings tied up. in our 
usual emigrant style, but no wagon came. We un- 
packed, put our babies to bed, built a fire and made 
biscuits, which we baked in the spider, and coffee, 
which we boiled in the coffee pot. Heavy rains 
came on. The roads became impassable. For a 
week we camped, we cooked and nursed, and 
"waited for the wagon." Our kind friend, Mr. 
Jones, came to releive our minds of anxiety about 
our little boys. They were the only children of a 
widowed sister, entrusted to our care. He had 
them at his house and he invited us to go home 
With him for a few days. We gladly accepted his 
invitation. Our visit was a delightful one. It was 
soon after Annie Lee's death. We visited her 
newly-made grave. Our first impressions of our 
new home, "Forest Cottage," were not very favor- 
able. We found everything in a dilapidated con- 
dition. My husband had come home, as we 
thought, to die with consumption. He could no 
longer ride his horse or stand a day's march. He 
converted his gun into a plowshare and his sword 
into a pruning hook. We were ignorant of country 
life. In Warren the public sentiment was against 
refugees. We were unfortunate. Our cattle died, 
our hogs strayed off , our poultry was stolen. Pro- 
visions were not plentiful. Our neighbors refused 
to sell to us for our negroes on the ground that 
they had not enough for themselves. We were 
not discouraged, for we were confident if we 
could tide over the first year our little farm would 


support us. Finding the servants dissatisfied with 
my manner of dealing out the meat, J called them 
together and divided all there was among them, 
according to the size of their families. I told them 
that with economy it would last till our hcgs were 
fattened and our beeves ready to kill. I left none 
for ourselves. We lived on peas boiled without 
meat. To this day I loathe the smell and taste of 
peas. In six weeks I ate nothing but berries. 
These were more to my taste than corn bread, peas 
and rye coffee; my poultry consisted of an old 
drake, a great grandfather. A friend (Dr. Deemes) 
came to dine. Taking the children aside, I said to 
them, "The old drake will be killed to-day; you 
must not say one word about it at the table.'' But 
when the savory smell came up the stairs it was 
too much for the small boy. He sprang up, clap- 
ping his hands, and called out, "There comes the 
old drake/' it was very tough eating. Our life 
on the farm was a very happy and a very busy 
one. We hired all the men out but just enough to 
cultivate our fields, and to do odd jobs around the 
house. I trained the young women as house serv- 
ants, cooks and nurses, and found homes for them. 
We planted sorghum and boiled our own syrup; we 
had a cider press, a tan vat and a loom made. 
Leather was tanned and wooden soles made on the 
place. We all had wooden bottomed shoes made 
out and out at home. I learned to weave, and be- 
fore the year was out I had put on the warping 
bars, and woven 350 yards of cloth. We planted 
indigo and made blue die. From sumack berries 
we got a good black die, and from walnut hulls 
pretty brown. Thus I varied my stripes and plaids. 
Our life was not entirely without excitement. 
Among the little negroes there were 30 cases of 

measles, followed by as many of whooping cough. 
These I tended myself as we had no physician near 
us. One servant was bitten by a mad-dog. One 
of our children, thinking he saw a terrapin on a 
hen's nest, reached out for it, and was bitten by a 
high-land moccasin. One little girl was caught on 
the horns of a cow and tossed in the air. Another 
child fell in the fire and was badly burned. And 
then, when fishing with a hair-pin in the tan vat, 
one fell in and narrowly escaped being drowned. 
It taxed our ingenuity to meet the demands of 
Christmas. By cutting paper dogs, horses, cows 
and birds and laying on cake made with sorghum, 
we had quite a fine display. Home-made candy 
and groundpeas served to fill their stockings. Rag 
dolls and home-made toys delighted their hearts. 
On Christmas morning the little ones went from 
cabin to cabin with a simple gift for each child on 
the farm. Our Christmas cake was made of dried 
cherries, dried whortle berries and watermelon 
rind for fruit. We had lemonade, made with citric 
acid and essence of lemon. My brother brought 
the Rev. Dr. Patterson to spend this Christmas 
with us. I had my little boy and 30 little negroes 
baptized. My little Jimmie was just 11 days old. 
The most remarkable thing about our establish- 
ment was our turnout. The mules were not .well 
matched, Big Jim would have made two oi his 
companion. Our carriage was a second edition of 
the ''one-horse shay." We drove into Warrenton 
every Sunday to church. At the foot of every hill 
carriage and harness literally dropped to pieces 
and had to be tied together with straps and strings. 
Cato was ashamed to be seen driving such an 
equipment. He insisted that we should get out at 
the edge of town and walk to church. I had one 


dress and one hat for two children. One Sunday 
the little boy wore them to church and the next 
Sunday they were worn by the little girl. The last 
year of the war we were more comfortable. Just 
as we were beginning to live in some comfort the 
end came. 

One day a party of poor, ragged, depressed look- 
ing men in gray straggled in. On taking them in- 
to the parlor they saw my husband. They were 
his men; he was their captain. The meeting was 
a touching one. With tears streaming down their 
faces they said, "Captain, we are all that are left." 
They gave me their tent, saying, ''This is all we 
have to offer." Taking out a crumped paper, they 
handed it to their captain asking him to read it, 
It was an account of Lee's surrender. They bow- 
ed their heads in their hands, and we all wept. To 
them and to us this seemed the end of all things. 
Still living in dread of Sherman, we hid and buried 
our treasures. I called the servants together and 
mounting the fence I made my first and last stump 
speech. I spoke to them kindly, reminding them 
of the close tie that had bound us togother for 200 
years, of how faithfully we had always performed 
our duty towards them, and of how they, too, had 
always been faithful. I told them the tie was 
broken, we had no longer any claim on them., and 
that at that moment they wre free to leave. They 
seemed deeply affected and their spokesman asked 
for time to think. The next morning they called 
us out. Moses, speaking for all, &aid they wished 
no change for the year, and when the time was 
out would we be their friends and advise them 
what to do. By referring to a journal kept at that 
time I find that when my husband was away from 
home I took my children out in the fields and 


superintended the men, and that I gave my per- 
sonal attention to all the work of the farm. I 
remember how I enjoyed it. Not many days after 
this, just after Johnson's surrender, suddenly our 
fences were torn down and from all quarters men 
in blue coats, on horses and on foot, poured in on 
us. Our place was alive with them. I was stand- 
ing at my garden gate holding my little child's 
hand. Two men dashed up to me so close that I 
felt the breath of their horses in my face. I felt 
no fear of them. Calmly I looked one after an- 
other from head to foot. Silently they turned and 
rode off. No recollection of the past comes to me 
so vividly as that of Sherman's invasion. I seemed 
to see the grove alive with blue uniforms. I see 
my poor husband, helpless, hopeless, seated on a 
. stump with a group around him calling him ' 'old 
man, " and boasting of the dreadful acts of vandal- 
ism they had committed, and demanding food for 
man and beast, I seem to hear my husband calling 
to the servants to show 'these men'' around the 
place; they found the hen-house, the barns, the 
smoke-houses, the store-rooms all empty. Even 
"Big Jim" was missing. After eating the bark off 
of the inside of his stall he had become discouraged 
and had wandered off into the woods and died. 
The crows that came to feast on him flew away 
hungry. Finding nothing to steal, the Federal 
soldiers for once were honest. They took nothing. 
Had they lifted my baby from her rough home- 
made cradle or peeped into rat holes, or dug in the 
mustard bed, they would not have gone off empty- 
handed. Our wealthy neighbors did not escape so 
easily. The long line of empty carriages, the droves 
of cattle and of living things, proved that the war 
was over. Sherman meant to finish his worK. His 


men had been too well drilled in committing depre- 
dations to leavp off, simply because'Lee and John- 
son had surrendered. 

We remained on our farm till fall. Then we sold 
out such things as we had collected. We had just 
enough to pay our expenses to New Bern. I do 
not use the word home, I had no such place. My 
home was in ashes. r J he war was over. The reign 
of terror began. The heaviest trials, the darkest 
days of my life opened before me. They do not 
belong to this story. I have tried to tell something 
of the life of a refugee. The excitement, the 
novelty, the many expedients resorted to made it 
full of interest. In my old age it is the period of 
mv past I love to recall. I seem to remember all 
the pleasant things. And if there were any dis- 
agreeables they are forgotten. Our friends were 
kind, our children were happy in the freedom of 
their country home. I was lifted above the petty 
cares of life by an enthusiastic love of country. As 
I could not serve, I could suffer and wait. I feel I 
have failed in conveying a true idea of the life of a 
refugee. I have done my best. Pardon the length 
of this article. 

I must write one incident of my life of a refugee. 
Our friend and neighbor, Mrs. Tom Carroll, invit- 
ed us to dinner; we had just seated ourselves at the 
table, had just inhaled with a long-drawn breath 
the delicious odor that filled the room. Our plates 
had' just been filled. I had taken part of every- 
thing on the table, ham, pig, turkey, vegetables of 
all kinds, and every variety of condiment. I had 
feasted my eyes and raised my knife and fork to 
enjoy this wonderful dinner, when looking across 
the table I saw my husband had fainted. With a 
lingering, longing look behind, I left the table to 


perform my wifely duty. The faint was a long 
one; he said it was caused by the surprise of ham 
meeting turkey, and both such strangers. When 
I returned to the dining room dinner was over. My 
hostess fared sumptuously every day ; had she 
ever known hunger she would have put my plate 
aside; instead, she handed me a plate of pickles, 
saying, "We always eat pickles after ice cream." 
Ice cream! Insult to injury! The loss of that din- 
ner haunted my waking hours for many a month, 
and that ice cream became a night-mare that 
banished sleep. 

The last of the crushed, disappointed and dis- 
heartened men who returned to us was my broth- 
er, Major Hugh Cole. At the very beginning of 
the war he had marched off to Virginia at the head 
of a gallant company. Returned alone; he had 
been one of those Who had constituted Mr. Davis' 
body guard, had been at the last cabinet meeting, 
and when his beloved President was captured he 
had ridden off to join the "last man and the last 
dollar" patriots across the mountain. He brought 
with him a valuable souvenir. Mr. Davis, in part- 
ing with his officers, devided among them a little 
gold he had with him. My brother devided his 
share ($30) among the children of the family, 
giving each one a little gold dollar. This they 
prize more than any of their possessions. Not 
enough has been written on the faithfulness and 
devotion of the negroes of the South during the 
war. I collected them on Sunday evenings and 
taught them. Our children taught them to read 
and write. And we had the church service and a 
sermon for the older ones on Sundays. Their 
affection and devotion to me and my little ones was 
beautiful. How often have I stood at my nursery 


door and listened to Uncle Remus and the little 
boy. This is what I saw. A big fire of logs. In 
one corner dear oid Mammy with her spotless 
turban and apron, \\ ith her baby in her arms, Un- 
cle Remus and the little boy in front of the fire. 
These two, Mammy and Uncle John, occupying the 
only chairs, on a row of soap boxes — the other nurs- 
es with the little white faces pressed against the 
black ones, the little white baby arms around black 
necks, and on each side of Uncle Remus (John) the 
two larger boys, and at his feet his own grandchild- 
ren. All listening to "Brer Rabbit" stories. But 
when it came to the "Tar baby" mammy must tell 
that. No one else could do it justice. Mammy ru 1 - 
ed supreme in the nursery, all had to obey her. The 
rest of the house was mine, but the nursery was 
hers. The close friendship between Uncle Remus 
and the little boy (Uncle John and little Marse Jack) 
was very beautiful. If Uncle John split rails, Marse 
Jack, three years old, had his wedges and malls and 
split rails too. If Uncle John ploughed, Marse Jack 
held the reins. When an uncle came home wounded 
Uncle John made the crutches that Marse Jack 
walked on till the wounded uncle threw his aside. 
And none grieved more sincerely than Uncle John 
when little Marse Jack fell asleep. In a strange 
land, deprived of their comforts and luxuries, hav- 
ing barely enough to eat, these negroes served my 
husband and myself as cheerfully and as uncom- 
plainingly as though tney had never left their homes. 
Often I was alone on the farm with them and I felt 
perfectly safe and secure. I knew they would take 
care of me and mine. 

Mrs. F. C. Roberts, 

New Bern, N. C. 


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